Alaska village turns to biomass heating for cheaper energy

An Alaska island village plans to use an advanced version of an ancient renewable energy system to lower its high energy costs.

The village of Kake wants to build a biomass district heating system to warm its public buildings while saving the community nearly $100,000 annually in energy costs, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Tuesday.

Kake was awarded a federal Department of Agriculture grant to design its biomass system. The village is now seeking funding.

The system planned for Kake, on Kupreanof Island south of Juneau, would use sensors and multiple chambers to burn wood efficiently with air quality impacts that are the same or less than heating oil systems.

The biomass heating system would use leftover wood from thinning of second growth forests or from timber operations, said Clay Good of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.

“The cost of energy here is high, so if we can come up with some more affordable energy it's always a good thing to pursue,'' said Gary Williams, who worked for 30 years as executive director of the Organized Village of Kake.

Williams wants to use wood to replace thousands of gallons of non-renewable heating oil used in the community's school and other large facilities.

“We've got a fuel supply that's literally in our backyard. We're in the middle of the Tongass (National Forest),'' Williams. ``So it would reduce the need for imported fuels and also at the same time as we harvested our local fuels, it would create jobs and put money into our local economy.''

The Interior Alaska town of Tok uses a biomass system to produce electricity through steam for its school, which Superintendent Scott MacManus said has saved the district money and created jobs since it was started a decade ago.

MacManus said challenges for the biomass system included finding people with the knowledge needed to administer the technology and to convince the community of its viability.

“One of the things about renewable and sustainable energy is that it's got to be specific to where you are,'' he said. “You have to look at what's available locally.''

Williams said biomass heating would move Kake toward energy independence, affordability and sustainability.

“Besides making this work for our community today, we want to make sure we leave a good world for our grandchildren too,'' Williams said.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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